Once-bullied teen creates ‘Sit With Us' app to promote kindness in schools
- BIK team
In the latest set of data from Insafe helplines, cyberbullying continues to be one of the most reported issues which children and young people face online. Recognising the importance of raising awareness around this topic, many countries and organisation hold campaigns at this time of year with National Bullying Prevention Month taking place in the US during October, and Anti-Bullying Week taking place in England 14-18 November 2016 as just two examples. In support of these actions, we'll be bringing you a series of article on this topic in the coming weeks.
Eating lunch alone at school is perhaps one of the biggest fears of any pupil. If you are new to a school, don't have any friends or if your friends eat at home, or if you are being bullied and humiliated during the day, then you know that you will sit alone at lunch.
When a child sits alone, they are often labeled as an outcast by other classmates making them an easy target to bullies as they aren't protected.
Natalie Hampton, a 16-year-old middle school student from Sherman Oaks, California, has been there. "When you walk into the lunchroom and you see all the tables of everyone sitting there and you know that going up to them would only end in rejection, you feel extremely alone and extremely isolated, and your stomach drops."
She was bullied and isolated by other classmates all through her 7th grade and eventually had to change schools.
"I felt like, with my story, it was my job to stand up and do something about all the kids who feel like this every day."
In her new school, Natalie found a supportive group of friends, but never forgot how it felt to be isolated and bullied. "Whenever I saw someone eating alone, I would ask that person to join our table, because I knew exactly how they felt. I saw the look of relief wash over their faces," she said.
Her experiences inspired her to develop a mobile application called ‘Sit With Us'.
The concept is simple: When you download the app, you can make your own profile and become an ‘ambassador'. You can create a lunch profile, set a time and location, and invite other users to your lunch. Any user can look at the list of ‘open lunches' in the app and know that they can respond to the invitation and sit with new people with no chance of rejection.
The app syncs with the mobile phone number of the user, rendering the whole process anonymous.
"Even though just about every school has bullies, I believe each school has a larger number of upstanders who want to make their schools more inclusive and kind".
Natalie's experience highlights the many ways in which bullying and isolation can make someone feel like they're flawed. Being bullied, harassed and humiliated regularly can create a ‘negative script' that contributes to distress.
Studies also show that loneliness and isolation can have profoundly harmful physical and psychological effects. Isolation elevates blood pressure and raises levels of stress hormones. Living alone increases the risk of suicide for young and old alike.
In the end, Natalie's app proves that technology mixed with creativity and empathy can be a powerful tool for social unification, and the internet can be a safe place for everyone.
Why not be like Natalie and make your own positive change for a better internet! Join us on Tuesday, 7 February 2017 on Safer Internet Day, where we encourage everyone to "Be the change: Unite for a better internet". Find out more at www.saferinternetday.org.
Natalie Hampton's interview on NPR: http://www.npr.org/2016/09/09/493319114/teen-creates-sit-with-us-app-for-bullied-kids